[Big Ear Masthead]

SETI in the 1980s

By Bob Dixon
With Additions By Herb Johnson

[Cosmic Search Magazine] Cosmic Search Magazine

From 1981 to 1983 we published the first SETI magazine, a quarterly called COSMIC SEARCH. Its editorial board included all the worldwide luminaries of SETI. The magazine was a technical and popular success, receiving great praise on all fronts. Sadly, it was a financial failure and finally folded after the thirteenth issue. We intend to make these articles available via CD-ROM in the future.

[PDP-11 Computer System]
PDP-11 Computer
System

In the middle 1980s, a new and more powerful computer was donated by Digital Equipment Corporation. We began what we knew would be years of effort to place it into operation in the next generation of the Ohio SETI Program. Unfortunately, while this development was proceeding, the old IBM computer came to a premature death at the hands of a mouse. The mouse had built a nest at the air intake to the disk drive, cutting off the machine's air supply. This caused the disk drive to destroy itself.

IBM said the computer was so old that it would cost a lot of money to fix it. They also would not guarantee it to work normally even after it was fixed. So regretfully we abandoned the IBM computer and devoted all our efforts toward getting the new Digital computer operational. During the years of eight-channel and fifty-channel observations, we accumulated more on-the-air SETI observing time than all earlier or contemporary SETI programs combined.

The PDP-11 system and its new software and hardware had many improvements over the earlier one. No assumption as to exact signal frequency is made, as the entire "water hole" (1.4 to 1.7 gigahertz, or GHz) is searched continuously in three thousand channels. When a signal is found the search is temporarily suspended, so that the signal may be examined immediately in great detail and studied for an hour or so. We call this the SETI ZOOM system, because of the way it seizes upon any detected signal and focuses in on it. Data and observations continued to be made during this period, including some astrophysical observations of hydrogen clouds, but no dramatic events were detected.

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